- Laci Barry Post
World War II History in Alaska
When I travel, I always look for history. There is a story to be found everywhere! We recently went on an Alaskan cruise, and I found three or rather three pieces of World War II history were right there in front of me.
In Juneau, we were walking through the cruise port, when a plaque caught my eye. It was a large memorial sign for the USS Juneau. The ship came to a sad demise on November 13, 1942 during the fierce Navy Battle of Guadalcanal. While the Allies won the battle ultimately, they lost eight ships and hundreds of soldiers. Two Japanese torpedoes sank the ship with only ten of about 700 soldiers surviving after eight days at sea. Of those who perished were five brothers all from the same Sullivan family. As a mom, I can’t imagine what their parents went through.
Our next port was Haines, Alaska. Before and after kayaking breathtaking Chilkoot Lake, we got to drive and walk through the remains of Fort William H. Seward. The fort was established in 1902 to manage unruly gold seekers and a boundary dispute with Canada. Later, during World War I, it was a training center for Alaskan draftees, and during World War II, it was a recruitment station, rest stop, and training center for soldiers in the Aleutian Campaign. The fort closed in 1945 and is a national historic landmark today. I wish more of it had been preserved to see!
After Haines, we cruised to Sitka, Alaska. Here we boarded a smaller zodiac boat and toured the Sitka Sound for wildlife. We saw whales, an otter, bald eagles, starfish, sea urchins, and more, but we also saw unexpected history. Our guide pointed out two abandoned World War II bunkers on the shore almost hidden in the Sitka spruce. It was surreal to see this history in a completely different context. I wouldn’t have even noticed the bunkers for looking at the eagles if our guide wouldn’t have pointed them out.
Alaska is full of magnificent scenery and wildlife, but it also contains lots of history, including a World War II memorial, old fort, and two abandoned bunkers!